As cricket returns to Sharjah, the Sunrisers Hyderabad mentor VVS Laxman rewinds to 1998 when Sachin Tendulkar stormed Australia. In a chat with The Indian Express, Laxman also talks about challenges of bio-bubble environment in the ongoing edition of Indian Premier League.
Cricket returns to Sharjah, the venue where you had that special partnership with Sachin in that famous desert storm knock in 1998. What’s your memories of it?
During the desert storm match I was fortunate to be in the best seat in the house; I was at the non-striker end. It was a most memorable experience.
Sachin was in his zone, for him nothing else mattered but to make India qualify for the finals. It was his best ODI hundred. He has scored so many hundreds but for me those two hundreds especially the desert storm hundred that helped us qualify for the final was probably the best hundred of Sachin in ODI’s. Then the way he batted in final. He smashed and demolished the Australian line-up that had very good bowlers.
Anything in particular that you will remember for life?
One thing about desert-storm hundred was when we came to changing room after the storm. Anshu bhai (Anshuman Gaekwad) was our coach and I still remember he came to me to talk and then went to Sachin.
Sachin was listening to music on his walkman and headphones. It’s something that he does normally when he is about to bat. He removed his headphone and said, “Don’t worry Anshu bhai I will make sure that I do everything possible to qualify for the finals.” And we were a fair bit away at that stage, we had lost wickets. It was me, one more batsman and then the bowlers to come. He had such confidence in himself that he will make sure that we qualify for the finals. That kind of confidence he gave to the coach, that is one thing, I will never ever forget.
How was the carnival of playing in Sharjah in general?
I didn’t play too many games in Sharjah. The first time I played in Sharjah was 1995 with India A side, I did well in that tour, the team was led by Vikram Rathore. We had Rahul (Dravid) as a vice-captain, Sourav (Ganguly), Saba Karim — all the future stars were there. My first full Sharjah experience was in 1998. Growing up, I have seen some nail bitting matches between India and Pakistan. Not only the last six of Javed Miandad but the way Kapil (Dev) paaji team defended a low score. Some of the best one day matches happened in that ground. To win that tournament in ’98 against Australia, the stand was buzzing with Indian fans, it was like a home game for us. We have heard stories of how when India and Pakistan used to play, one side of the stadium used to be Indian fans and other side would be filled with Pakistan fans.
Contrast that with the scene now, playing without spectators. Do you think Sachin would have scored those two 100s if there was no one in stands?
For Sachin it didn’t matter the way he used to bat for India and Mumbai. He was passionate about what he was doing. I don’t have any doubt that Sachin would still have been in his zone. All great players derive that internal motivation and not necessarily be motivated externally. Sachin was the greatest batsman I have seen in our generation. He still would have won that game for us.
Do you have any memorabilia from that game?
I was always a big fan of Mark Waugh. I still remember I took Mark Waugh’s t-shirt with his signature. I still have it.
— VVS Laxman (@VVSLaxman281) September 21, 2020
Let’s come to this present tournament. Do you agree that SRH depends too much on overseas batsmen?
We have got some talented youngsters who have done really well in domestic cricket for the last two years. It’s just that they have to express themselves and play to their potential. We have the experience of David Warner, Jonny Bairstow, Kane Williamson. And we also have Manish Pandey in excellent form and so is Vijay Shankar. At the auction we got finishers Mohammad Nabi and Mitchell Marsh who can play the role of all-rounders.
One quality of David Warner as a captain that you particularly like?
On the field he backs his instincts but he is also a leader off the field. He likes to encourage youngsters, interacts and shares his knowledge with even uncapped players. He leads by example, his record has been phenomenal. He has been very consistent, scoring heavily. Even last year he played some ten games, didn’t play entire tournament, and was still the winner of orange cap.
How big a challenge is the bio bubble for players? Can’t go out, can’t meet friends, can’t even go to each others room?
Within the bubble it’s quite normal now. We are staying in a resort where there is a lot of ventilation, we have got our own pool, gym. A section of the beach is designated for us. Also a part of the hotel restaurant is just for us.
Players are happy that atleast we are getting to play the game. It’s a small sacrifice all are making to be part of biggest cricket tournament in the world. It’s a challenge for the coaching staff to look after the well being of the players. Not only physical well being but mental well being too. We are organising various team bonding sessions, having one-on-one sessions with players so that they are not only confined to their rooms but also are relaxed at the same time. We want them to play with a free mind.
This is a restless generation, how tough it will be to keep the bio bubble intact?
So far it hasn’t been that challenging. All players do understand they need to follow guidelines. They need to stay disciplined. Overall it’s managed very well. Even at hotel if anyone wants to eat any dish (not in the menu), the hotel has made arrangements to cook it specially for them.
BCCI has taken precautions so that players remain safe. So it’s very important to follow the guidelines.
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